SETTING BOUNDARIES: THE PSYCHOLOGICAL CONTRACT

by Adams, Wendy Friday, April 01, 2011
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How successful do you want to be? If you prescribe as many do, to the Psychological Contract, you expect to at the very least feel as if you are supported in your success on the job. Whenever an employee and employer enter into a relationship, there are assumptions that they share the same or similar beliefs around the arrangement. Basic needs for success on the job must be met through the provision of resources. These resources equate to time, materials, other people, an infrastructure through which the work can be accomplished etc. In return, basic contributions must be rendered to ensure that the employee can also realize success. Unfortunately, most employers erroneously believe that compensation (pay and benefits) is the fulfillment of the employer/employee contract. Not so. This transaction may only serve to shackle unfulfilled employees (golden handcuffs) to jobs or work in which they can never truly succeed.

As one of my favorite concepts ‘Psychological Contract’ was often supported by another one of my favorites, Carl Rogers the formidable pioneer of person-center therapy who was one of the earlier proponents of this relationship concept.

According to the definition as found in wiki, “a ‘Psychological Contract’ represents the mutual beliefs, perceptions, and informal obligations between an employer and an employee (although this could be applied to consulting or service provider relationships). It sets the dynamics for the relationship and defines the detailed practicality of the work to be done.”

The pact of the psychological contract goes something like this-and you can quote me here as the original author of this statement: “if you give me what I need, I can give you what you want.” So, if I enter into a work relationship with you, I expect all of the resources necessary to succeed within my work; time, materials, people, policies, standards and clearly communicated ways to be successful within the confines of the work.

If I cannot succeed within my work with the knowledge that it may be due to the lack of resources to do so (time, people, tools), I feel stress. This stress impacts my ability (or interest) in doing my job or doing it well. The result- as an employer, you do not get what you want, e.g. the ability to succeed at full potential within your business.

So back to our concept of success…if one enters into any type of contract, the intention is to succeed, right? Let’s review this concept again-“if you provide to me, give to me what I need (to succeed in this relationship with you), then I can provide to you, give to you what you want (to succeed in this relationship with me).”

Let’s look at an example. You, the employer, come to me for services I can provide. You will have certain expectations for these services and will have also defined the results possible from obtaining them. However, you have not given me what I need to provide you with these expected results (limitations could include access to you, information, equipment, other workers, etc.). My original assumption as found within my psychological contract had been that we shared the mutual beliefs, perceptions, and information obligations to jointly succeed in this venture. My assumptions were found to be incorrect. An imbalance has ensued and so in the end, neither of us finds success.

The tendency within the modern workplace, is to excuse or provide justification for lack of success resources, yet the true expectation of the business is that employees do with less and should still aspire to succeed on the behalf of the business or customer while sacrificing their own successes.

Your success declaration: Today set the boundaries by which the success can be achieved with whomever you will eventually declare success. Tell the relationship partner: I can give you what you want, if you can give me what I need!